In our previous blog, “Social Media in Early Years” we looked at the controversy surrounding the use of social media platforms and pages in relation to children’s rights, parental preferences and professional debates around this topic.
But how about the use of social media platforms as a business development tool in relation to Early Years settings and businesses? Is there a difference? Can you see the benefits? Have you ever considered using social media as business development tool before now?
In this blog, we will be taking a look into how it all works, how it’s worked for us, how it can work for you and the benefits/drawbacks.
First of all, we need to ask – do you consider yourself to be a ‘business owner’ or are you ‘just a childminder’ or ‘setting owner/manager’? The way we perceive ourselves have a huge impact on how our setting/business is portrayed and grows and develops. Just because your setting runs from your home or because you own an Early Years Provision, does not make you any less a ‘business owner’ than someone who owns and runs their own shop, for example. As soon as you begin to recognise yourself as a reputable business owner, the rest of the world can too!
Also important to note is that it is never too late to utilise social media as a business development tool, whether you have always used this method of promotion, or you are only beginning to consider it now, social media can be utilised at any point in your business plan.
The most important thing, and one of the most valuable, particularly for settings with a limited budget, is that social media is free. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram to name the biggest contenders and social media platforms, are all free to set up and run, yet can be a great source of attracting customers and bringing in income. This incredible platform is not only free to set up and run, but is literally at the end of our finger tips and has the potential to completely change the dynamics of your business within an incredibly short space of time.
Take our social media platforms as an example; Bridgit created the ‘Pebbles Childcare’ Facebook page when she was in the initial stages of set-up, before she had any children on the books and Facebook was a huge part of Bridgit’s initial business plan. If you too are in the early stages of setting up your own provision, then Facebook is great for igniting interest within your locality and has the potential to attract potential customers to your business, before you are even up and running!
Bridgit began the Pebbles Childcare Facebook journey, by posting a few photos here and there as she experimented with playroom set-ups, gathered and created new resources, purchased buggies and car seats; she shared these on the Facebook page in order to attract the attention of parents and families within the locality to highlight the fact that soon she would be open and operating and this alone gathered a great deal of interest, even within the earliest stages.
Your social media platform (whichever you choose to use) represents you, your business and the image/type of setting you are/plan to provide and so it is important to remember this when planning and posting content. Ask yourself; what do I want potential customers to take from this? Who is this for? Who am I trying to attract and is this a true representation of me/my business. For example, if you were to set up a setting that was going to be primarily a Forest School; you’d want to post content that demonstrated this and truly reflected your outdoor play and learning image. Similarly, if you are a larger private nursery/preschool setting, you’d want to demonstrate the learning environments, activities and play and learning opportunities that you will be/do provide for the children in your care.
The photos you post don’t need to be taken by a professional photographer or even have to feature children’s faces if that’s something you are keen to avoid, but pictures can tell a thousand words and so a photo of little hands engaged in a sensory activity, speaks volumes in comparison to a photo of the tops of children’s heads just standing and looking at a pre-set up learning experience – keep this in mind when posting content and ask yourself if it’s a true reflection of what you want prospective parents to see.
This is especially important to consider if you decide to set up and use more than one social media platform to promote your business. For the first year or so of operation, we only used Facebook to promote the business and keep parents and prospective parents updated of our weekly outings, news and events, but we then decided that we needed a bigger platform from which to share our story and promote our over-arching message and aim to promote home-based child-care as a viable career and childcare option, and so we decided to set up a Twitter page to share our daily adventures, activities and experiences on, but we are mindful that we promote and share the same message across both of our platforms in order to maintain a consistent image for our setting as business and Early Years provision.
Twitter is probably our most valuable and effective method of promoting our message, the business and also sharing good practice. Twitter has a buzzing hub of Early Years networks and professionals; from childminders to nurseries, to schools and preschools, Twitter is a great place to share good practice, seek advice and gain inspiration from others, and it’s a great way to reach out and make connections and links with other like-minded professionals and keep up to date with the latest CPD opportunities or changes in legislation.
Early Years can be a lonely and isolating place, particularly if you are lone-working and so social media provides you with a voice and enables you to make connections, join discussions and find out new information that you previously may have not had access too.
Not only this, but social media, and Twitter in particular has the potential for your message, practice or news, whatever content you are putting out, to travel or ‘go viral’ within seconds which is great not only for sharing practice with the wider Early Years community but other businesses, prospective parents and can also capture media attention too.
In conclusion, whilst social media and the use of children’s imagery on social media platforms remains a controversial one, not just within Early Years, but across society as a whole, we hope that these small hints and tips and changing the perspective of how social media can be used positively to promote and benefit your setting as a business have been valuable and have demonstrated that whilst our ‘digital footprints’ are growing, so can the business development and promotional/marketing opportunities for your business too without risking ‘exploiting’ or raising safeguarding concerns as an Early Years provision.
Just be mindful of the content you are using, how you are using it and the image you are portraying as a result. You are a reputable practitioner, professional and ultimately business owner, and the use of social media in this way can only support and enhance your business and it’s development potential.